Sean Payton was the head coach of the New Orleans Saints for 15 years, and those loyalties aren't just going to go away during his first year of retirement.
Payton told Jarrett Bell of USA Today he believes the Saints will win the NFC South over Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in what he classified as a "two-team race" heading into the new season:
"And here's why: We finished last year at 9-8, with 50-something players that missed games because of injury. It's easy to see two more wins there. That puts you at 11 (wins). And then conversely, it appears Tampa has had some injuries. I think the early schedule favors New Orleans, the way it sets up.
"Atlanta's in transition. Carolina's in transition. No disrespect to those teams but I feel like it's a two-team race in that division. Will it be close? I'm sure it will be. But the coaching staff is intact (sans Payton) with the same coordinators. There's a lot of continuity. And that team knows that it can beat Tampa Bay."
He's right about the last point, as the Saints have won seven straight regular-season games against the Buccaneers.
Bell also noted New Orleans set an NFL record by using 58 players in the starting lineup in 2021 and also lost starting quarterback Jameis Winston to a torn ACL after he went 5-2 as a starter.
Perhaps some better health and continued dominance over Tampa Bay can help New Orleans take the division back after the Buccaneers won it last year.